Artibus et Historiae no. 83 (XLII)

2021, ISSN 0391-9064

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CATHERINE R. PUGLISI - ‘Bisognare pensarvi un’anno intero’: Guido Reni’s Second Manner and ‘Bianchezza’ (pp. 173–204)

Towards 1630 at the height of his fame, Guido Reni surprised his public with a series of stunning altarpieces and gallery pictures in a new artistic style. His ‘seconda maniera’, as critics dubbed it, presented a refined delicacy in contrast to the naturalistic forcefulness of his ‘prima maniera’. A lightened palette characterized by an ‘estrema bianchezza’ especially stimulated contemporary comment. Claiming to have spoken directly to the painter, Francesco Scannelli relayed in his Microcosmo della pittura (1657) that Reni deliberately heightened his colors to counter the darkening of oil paint over time, but his medical expertise led Scannelli to find failing eyesight brought on by old age to be a more likely explanation. On the other hand, Carlo Cesare Malvasia in the Felsina pittrice (1678) accepted Reni’s artistic rationale for his revised palette with its liberal use of lead white. He further underlined the risk Reni took in rejecting best practices and ignoring Ludovico Carracci’s warning to reflect a whole year before applying a single brushstroke of lead white to a painting. Both authors concurred in crediting Reni with initiating a widespread trend among fellow painters who imitated him in the creation of a ‘tingere moderno’. They sustained that not only his pupils but painters in Bologna (Francesco Albani, Guercino), in Rome (Pietro da Cortona, Andrea Sacchi) and in Venice (Pietro Liberi, Pietro Bellotti) also embraced a luminous aesthetic. In a poetic wordplay, Scannelli concluded that ‘nel rischiarare la particolare operatione rese anco ad un tempo il suo nome più chiaro’.

By examining select paintings by Reni in his second manner, this paper evaluates the early critics’ interpretations of his lightened palette and explores, too, a range of other possible motivators for his artistic choice, primary among them: professional competition, imitation of antique marbles, neo-Venetianism, and a privileging of whiteness as a spiritual and cultural ideal.

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